After 63 years of marriage, Anita and Jesse Martinez still laugh a lot. Sometimes at each other, but mostly with each other.
It's a connection that gets them through the day as they reminisce about how they met, their early marriage when all they could afford for transportation was a bicycle, his Parkinson's and their rewarding years at La Puerta de Oro senior center, which means â€œgolden doorâ€ in English.
Anita Martinez was director for Oklahoma City's first Hispanic center, which is still the state's only Spanish-speaking center, from 1975 to 2005. She traveled across the country, talking about the center and what made it so successful. She still volunteers there two days a week.
After retiring from Tinker Air Force Base in 1981, Jesse Martinez started driving a bus for the Salvation Army, which provides rides to the center so the elderly can enjoy a hot meal, socialize, have fun and learn a bit of English. He, too, retired in 2005.
â€œWhen he went to work with me, oh, it made it so nice,â€ Anita said. â€œOur offices were right next to each other.â€
She said one day she asked him, â€œViejo, did you ever think you'd work over here with me?â€
â€œIf I did, I wouldn't have retired,â€ she recalls him saying.
Viejo is her nickname for him. It means old man. His for her is vieja, or old woman.
â€œAll of the people at the center know him as that,â€ she said.
Anita is 80; Jesse is 85.
Her early days at the senior center were demanding. She did all the cooking, driving and activity planning. She even directed the band. About 100 people were at the center each weekday then; today the number is closer to 30. Bus pickup is only two days a week.
â€œWhen Mom quit cooking, she lost a lot of people,â€ said daughter Bernadette Martinez, who works for the Oklahoma County Senior Nutrition Program and is site manager of the center.
She knows it's her mother, though, who is still the heart and soul of the center.
â€œShe's the one who built it. She's the woman who networks. It's her who they come to see,â€ her daughter said.
Anita Martinez and her husband worked together when he wasn't driving the bus. Seniors liked him behind the wheel because he detoured once in a while when one of them needed milk or bread from the grocery store. All they had to do was ask. Twice he was in the right place at the right time. A woman had fallen beside her house, and he found her. Another time a man had a heart attack, and he revived him.
â€œIt wasn't boring,â€ he said. â€œI enjoyed working with the senior citizens.â€
For him, the job was never about being paid. â€œIt was a job I enjoyed. I did it a month as a volunteer. After a month, they hired me and put me on the payroll.â€
Anita Martinez said what she found so rewarding was how much she learned from the seniors. Though she was there to teach them, she learned as much from them as they did from her.
In 1999, the couple won the Governor's Arts Award for their efforts to help Oklahoma City Hispanic seniors. Both have received more awards than they can remember.
The two met in February 1947 at the Trianon Ballroom. He had been out of the service for just a few months and operated a grill serving sandwiches and hamburgers. He walked over to the ballroom and saw her coming down the stairs with her cousins.
â€œI spotted her immediately, and I said, â€˜I'm taking this girl home.'â€
She said, â€œWe laughed all the way home. He was so funny.â€
She remembers thinking he was friendly and a good dancer. When he asked her to dance, she said no. She was used to dancing with her female cousins.
His reply: â€œI said I didn't want to dance anyway. I just wanted to hold her.â€
They did dance. â€œI started to lead, and he said, â€˜No, I lead you.'â€
They married that year on July 3, and they've been laughing and enjoying each other's company since. She said he's a good husband, father, brother-in-law and grandfather. They have four children.
â€œWe've always shown respect for each other,â€ he said. Even if they argue, they let go. â€œFrom one day to the next, we would forget what we argued about. We've had a good marriage.â€
Their zest for life is contagious, even with his 15 years with Parkinson's.
â€œI don't have a real bad case of it,â€ he said. As he gets older, his muscles are becoming affected. â€œI can walk once I get on my feet,â€ he said.
She said: â€œWhat makes me feel good is that he doesn't hurt.â€
â€œJust a little bit of shake, rattle and roll,â€ he said.
Laughing and loving seems to be their secret for 63 years.
â€œWe sit here and reminisce a lot of times,â€ she said.
Once she said, â€œLet's dance, Viejo. I'll lead you.â€
â€œWe can't even walk to the car, much less go dancing,â€ he said, both of them laughing at the memory.
Anita and Jesse Martinez are featured in the â€œOklahoma's Most Inspiring Couplesâ€ 2010 calendar, sponsored by the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative. Couples featured in the calendar are being profiled in The Oklahoman's Life section each month. For more information about the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative's inspiring couples, go to www.foreverforreal.com.